Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Research Student: Jose Marquez

Photo of Jose Marquez

"Can education policy make socioeconomically disadvantaged children happier? A comparative study."

Submission Date: December 2019

The last decade has witnessed a growing interest in children’s well-being in general and subjective well-being (SWB) in particular. However, the literature exploring the links between children’s socio-economic status (SES) and their SWB has so far provided contrasting results, with some evidence suggesting that how SES is measured matters. The relationship between public policy and children’s SWB remains more unexplored and finding associations reveals particularly difficult too. Overall, the relationships between children’s SES, their SWB and public policy are difficult to disentangle. Some difficulties can been explained by the possible existence of mediating factors (Cummins, 2000) and by understandings of poverty or socio-economic disadvantage that focus on adults, rather than children’s perceptions of needs (Main, 2014) and/or on material necessities only. Whatever the case may be, more research is needed in this field.

In this research I study the relationships between children’s SWB and two elements considered important in children’s lives: their SES and the education policies and practices deemed to influence their experience at school.

I use data on 15 year-olds’ SWB, their SES and multiple education policies and practices from 2 main sources. This is, first, PISA 2015, which asked students from more than 50 countries to describe several aspects of their well-being for the first time in PISA studies. And second, PISA for Development, a new OECD study carried out for the first time in 2017 in several middle and low income countries which also includes data on out-of-school children, a group that has been understudied in the field of child SWB research.

To explore these relationships, I use some advanced quantitative research methods, mainly through structural equation modelling, including factor analysis, multi-level modelling and path-analysis.

The hypotheses are that (1) there is an association between SES and SWB which depends on how the former is measured; and (2) exposure to certain education policies and practices are associated better SWB outcomes, particularly among those more socio-economically disadvantaged.

*This project was presented in the ISCI Conference in Montreal in June of 2017.


I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Carlos III University. After graduating, a public service vocation led me to combine a job in the banking sector with preparing entrance exams to pursue a career in the Spanish civil service. However, the lack of opportunities to pursue this vocation in Spain convinced me to emigrate to the UK. This public service calling evolved into a passion for social science research, which ultimately took me to Denmark, where I graduated from the Syddansk Universitet with an MSc with Distinction in Comparative Public Policy and Welfare Studies, and worked as a research assistant in the Danish Centre for Welfare Studies. In 2016 I presented my master’s dissertation at the LCYR child and youth poverty conference in Leeds, and I was also awarded with an ESRC White Rose DTC +3 Scholarship to pursue my PhD. Before that, I had also collaborated as a researcher with Foundacion porCausa in several projects, including a study on the precarious situation of Spanish youth, and the report ‘Western Africa's missing fish’ by the Overseas Development Institute. In July of 2017 I joined the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills -first as an intern and then as a consultant- to work in the project ‘Strength through Diversity: The Integration of Immigrants and Refugees in School and Training Systems’.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

First of all, I enjoy doing research. Therefore, a reasonable next step after graduating from my master’s degree was pursuing a PhD. In addition, I am passionate about social justice, and particularly committed to the cause of providing decent standards of living to socioeconomically disadvantaged children and helping them thrive in life. I believe undertaking a PhD will provide me with the skills needed to become a decent social researcher and make my contribution to helping those in need. I am happy that, thanks to ESRC funding, I am able to undertake my PhD in an excellent university, with the fantastic academic support of the White Rose DTC, and with two great supervisors who are well-familiarized with the topic of my research and the methods I will be using.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

There are two questions that intrigue me: What constitutes a decent childhood? And, how can we provide it to every child? The literature suggests that one of the things we need to do to answer these questions is to pay much more attention to children’s views and reports on their own well-being. In this regard, first, I am curious about what can be learnt from this relatively new field of research. And second, I believe in the important role that researchers can play in helping to improve children’s lives. Therefore, to sum up, I would say that curiosity and commitment with helping disadvantaged children are the main drivers of this passion.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

Although it is still too early to know, I guess there are several different options for me. Pursuing an academic career is certainly one of them. However, an interesting professional opportunity in a non-profit organization, a government body, or an international organization might be attractive to me too. 

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